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Seal on the mend after operation at Hillswick

Ziggy with his swollen flipper when he arrived at Hillswick in late January. Photo HWS

A GREY seal pup is recovering from the first operation of its kind to take place in Shetland after a large splinter of bone was removed from his flipper by local vets this week.

Ziggy was brought to Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary after he was found lying injured on rocks at Levenwick in the south mainland in late January after Storm Gertrude lashed the isles with 100mph winds.

Sanctuary owner Jan Bevington said she was seriously concerned as his right rear flipper had swollen to four or five times its normal size.

“When he first came in Ziggy could not close his flipper at all which must have been extremely painful and made him extremely fierce and hard to handle,” she said.

The sanctuary immediately placed him on a course of strong antibiotics, which reduced the swelling, but the wound refused to heal up.

Swabs were sent to a laboratory to identify the best treatment and Ziggy ended up on several more courses of antibiotic medicine.

“We started to think there must be some kind of internal injury causing this, and then we heard about a seal with exactly the same problem at a rescue centre in Ireland,” Bevington said.

“Over there they eventually found a bone sticking out of the wound, so we made contact to find out more and called in our local vets to take a closer look at him.

“Then, to our amazement, the day before the vets were due to arrive a splinter of bone started sticking out from Ziggy’s wound, which gave us hope we could help him.”

The Shetland Vets team at Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary - (from left) vet Rebecca Manson,vet student Charis Stevenson, HWS owner Jan Bevington and vet nurse Siân Bryant. Photo HWS

Shetland vet Rebecca Manson got in touch with the Irish vets before come to Hillswick to operate, assisted by vet nurse Siân Bryant, while vet student Charis Stevenson helped Bevington’s husband Pete hold Ziggy down during the operation.

After applying a local anaesthetic and taking a pre-X ray, Manson flushed and cleaned the wound with iodine before removing the splinter of bone with a pair of forceps.

The large bone splinter removed from Ziggy's flipper. Photo HWS

Manson said: “The piece of bone was two centimetres long or so and quite wide and the biggest part was still in the wound, so I don’t think it would have managed to push its way out on its own.”

She said the injury was probably caused when the rough seas threw the seal against some rocks “knocking the bone off one the digits in his flipper”. She said: “It’s called a bone sequestrum and though we see this quite often, we’ve never operated on a seal before.”

Bevington added: “We are amazed how fast his wound is healing now the bone has been removed.

“We’re hoping we can release him back to the wild next week as he spends most of his time trying to get out of his pen, but he has to wait until the wound is fully healed.

“We’ve never had a seal with a wound like this before and it really has been a long haul, so we’re elated this operation was such a success and we’re really grateful to Rebecca, Siân and Charis. A great collaboration and a very patient seal.”

Ziggy is healing well after his successful operation. Photo HWS

Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary has rehabilitated 13 grey seals during the winter pupping season and is currently caring for three otters.